For proof that smart ski area operators must cater to the snowshoeing crowd, all Pam Cruickshank of Vermont’s Okemo Mountain Resort has to do is glance at the slopes before the lifts start running.
First thing in the morning, skiers and riders are creeping up the edges of the trails at the Ludlow, Vt. mountain on snowshoes.
“They go out there for a half hour then hit the skis because it’s a great way to warm up,” Cruickshank said.
Recognizing a market when they see one, ski resort operators over the past decade have continually added snowshoe trails, tours and options for cross-training skiers and riders. Each resort tries to carve its own
specialized snowshoe niche, just as they do for their much larger ski and snowboarding business.
Sugarbush, in Warren, Vt., has overnight outback tours, in keeping with its adventurous motif. Kid-friendly Smugglers Notch in Jeffersonville offers family naturalist snowshoe tours. Ambitious but luxury-loving snowshoers can hit the trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Bolton and trek 11 miles to comfortable lodgings and maybe a nice Merlot at the Trapp Family Lodge in neighboring Stowe.
Here, in alphabetical order, are a few highlights at some of Vermont’s big downhill ski and riding centers. Each resort has a wide variety of rates, rentals and tours. Check each resort’s Web site for details.
*Bolton Valley Resort: http://www.boltonvalley.com
Aside from the trail to Trapp, Bolton’s selling point is its 5,200 acres of backcountry. The resort offers a variety of guided tours, which the resort will often modify based on the whims and abilities of the snowshoers, said Kristin Parkhurst, the Bolton Sports and Nordic Center Manager. One tour leads snowshoers to a remote cabin, where cheese, crackers and wine await.
Other tours depend on the abilities of the people that sign-up. Some tours are easy, some bushwhack around Bolton’s sometimes steep forests.
“If it’s really an adventurous group, we take them off the trail and do some exploring,” Parkhurst said. “The guides know this wilderness like the backs of their hands.”
Way up in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Burke Mountain brings out the snowshoers on Saturday morning expeditions. Five years ago, David Gwatkin started Vermont Adventure Co., which offered snowshoe tours to places like Lake Willoughby, a fjord-like body of water in nearby Westmore. He’s now Burke’s marketing director, and has brought the tours to Burke. So now, for the first time in six or seven years, you can snowshoe at Burke in addition to the skiing and riding the mountain has long offered. The tour, which Gwatkin said is not very difficult, starts and ends at Burke’s base lodge. “It is great exercise,” he said.
Not much for snowshoers right at this gargantuan resort. “Our bread and butter really is skiing,” said spokeswoman Rachel Webster. But never fear, snowshoeing is close by. Ask the locals about nearby state or national forests. Better yet, try Trailside Lodge on Route 100, a short distance north of Killington Resort, or Mountain Top Inn in the nearby town of Chittenden.
*Mad River Glen: http://www.madriverglen.com
The cooperative owned ski center in Fayston attracts a crowd that tends to be in tune with nature and the environment, and Mad River’s snowshoe offerings reflect that. Each weekend, Mad River offers a guided naturalist program. Staff Naturalist Sean Lawson points out animal tracks, evidence of past animal visits, and explains what the animal was probably up to when it clawed the tree, left the track or scattered the remains of dinner.
New at Mad River is the Mountain Nature Center. Snowshoe or ski to a renovated lift shack and learn about mountain geology, animals and other facts of natural life around Mad River. One especially interesting part of the exhibit explains the effects of a devastating 1998 ice storm had on the forest around Mad River, and how the forest has since begun to recover.
The resort has a dedicated snowshoe course, separate from the Nordic path, along the banks of the Black River. It’s 10 kilometers long, but snowshoers can and often do wander off the path, exploring meadows and forests in the shadow of Okemo Mountain.
Snowshoers love moonlight, so the resort has added night tours when the lunar gods cooperate.
“Our moonlight tours have taken off tremendously,” Cruickshank said. Okemo’s trails are canine-friendly. As long as Fido’s leashed and well behaved, bring him along.
*Smugglers’ Notch: http://www.smuggs.com
The Jeffersonville resort gives you a chance to get smarter while you’re snowshoeing through the woods, at least if you take advantage of some of Smugglers’ guided tours, said spokeswoman Barbara Thomke. On one tour, called “Where’s the Bear,” a guide will explain the habitat, life cycle and other fun facts about the black bears that live in the woods around Smugglers’ Look for the bear claw marks on the beech trees.
Other guided tours explain the maple industry, and local history as seen through the fields and forests, Thomke said. For fun, guides will take you to near the mountain top Thursday evenings to check out fireworks displays from a lofty vantage point. For those who want to push themselves to the next level, personal trainer Zeke Zucker will take you on what Thomke describes as “an aggressive trail run.”
Ok, you’re from the big city, you don’t know a snowshoe from a Jimmy Choo, and aren’t there lions and tigers and bears in the woods? Relax. Stowe is there to give you an introduction, a gentle one if need be, into joys of stomping through the winter woods.
They can outfit you on the spot. “We can take care of any emergency. If you don’t have snowboots, we got ’em. If you don’t have poles, we got ’em,” said Stowe Nordic Center Manager Scott Dorwart.
The trails take skiers into the state forest. “No road crossings, no buildings, no skiers,” Dorwart said. Heaven, unless you’re used to seeing people around and worry about getting lost. Some guests also worry about wild animals. “We do have guests who say ‘I want to snowshoe but I don’t want to go by myself.’ They don’t mind paying extra money to go with someone,” Dorwart said.
Snowshoeing is a small part of Stowe’s Nordic Center crowd, but that’s changing. “Snowshoeing is doing to our nordic center what snowboarding did for our Alpine area 10 years ago,” he said.
Like most of the other resorts, Stratton has guided tours. Perhaps the most popular is the summit tour, Foster said. People take the gondola to the top of Stratton Mountain, where they explore the summit, including a historic fire tower, on snowshoes.
Stratton also offers moonlight tours, where stargazers can explore the woods until they reach a remote cabin.
The Warren, Vt., resort has offerings for people who want more than just an afternoon jaunt on snowshoes.
One 2.5 hour guided tour brings guests to the Slide Brook Wilderness Area, a prime habitat for bear, moose, and lynx. Guides will often find tracks left by these animals and lead the group on them, said Sugarbush Communications Director J.J. Toland.
Sugarbush’s Adventure Learning Center offers an overnight trip. You can rough it or pamper yourself. Those who stay overnight in Allyn’s Lodge can kick back with a glass of wine before turning in for the night in a warm bed. Or you learn survival skills and spend the night in a snow cave, Toland
The trip’s guides also offer tips on how to recognize dangerous situations, what to do when stuck in the woods, and how to recognize the danger of avalanches.